I'm a pain in the neck. I know that. The thing is I love to argue. I could seriously spend hour after hour arguing. Politics and religion are the best.
The problem is, who can I find that is willing to argue with me? Well, turns out it's usually going to be family. These are the people I'm closest to that I see the most often. But you need something to disagree about. When you're young and you just accept everything your parents say as default, it's hard to argue with them, because you agree too much. But you can find a few things.
When I was married I was a conservative Christian. It's the same thing my parents were, which is not all that unusual. My wife was also a conservative Christian, but not as die hard as me. But her side of the family had some people that were both political and religious liberals. Even an agnostic. This was beautiful. I was never happier than when I was in the presence of these liberals trying to goad them into getting into arguments with me. It was hog heaven.
What I'd often do is use a technique I had heard from Greg Koukl. He calls it "throwing out some chum." You basically say something that's pretty tame, but that might make the hearer think, or perhaps it's something the hearer would disagree with and would want to say something in reply. Once they do, you use that as a little lever to pry open an entire argument. They've taken the bait, and away you go.
But this was not hog heaven for my in-laws. This was more like hog hell. I knew this and tried as best as I could to walk a fine line. I wanted to argue with them, but I didn't want to upset them. It didn't always work. My wife's aunt (we'll call her Aunt M for discussion) was one such person that didn't care for my pastime. She's a very smart person. She has a PhD and is a professor at a major university. Well, the chum this time was a little dig at FDR. My wife's grandmother (political and religious liberal) took the bait, and away we went. It was me vs all as usual. I'm happy, but they're becoming enraged. The conversation culminated with this statement, from Aunt M. "Why don't you just shut the f&@k up!!"
Well, that's exactly what I did, as did everyone else in the room, none of whom are used to that sort of language. Nor are we used to hearing this language from my wife's aunt.
OK, so maybe I let things get out of hand. I backed off for the time being. That is, until we got together for the next family function. On another occasion I made a few comments that indicated I was a fan of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. I direct them mostly at Uncle D, who like me kind of enjoys a nice battle. Aunt M wants no part of this discussion, but she just can't muzzle her own irritation. Trying to contain herself she said something that sounds farily mild, but the tone made it clear that this was another "shut the f&@k up" monent. She said "You know Jon, you really are clueless. Seriously. You have no idea what you're talking about."
Well, it's been some time since those events, and something has occurred to me. Basically Aunt M was right. I was totally clueless. I was a young stupid guy that thought I had the whole world figured out. Not about the Swift Vets. I still love those guys, and think their claims were correct, though regardless I now think Kerry would have been a better president. The point being I was clueless in my overall neo-con way of thinking.
But how will I ever come to know that I'm clueless if I'm not arguing with people and gaining information in that way? Any remotely common opinion can be formidably defended. Anything. Take Islam. If you were raised in Pakistan you'd probably start life as a Muslim. You might bump into people that disagreed as you got older and you might buy books and listen to debates from Ahmed Deedat and you would be able to pummel your Christian or atheist acquantances.
If you just leave it at that you'll never learn anything. You'll sit there and consider yourself superior. But if you keep pushing and pushing you'll finally start to be exposed to real challenges, which can help you see the light. That's how it works with me. It's not that I like being a bully, though maybe I do take some pleasure in victory. But it's more that I like learning. I'm never more happy than when I've learned something new that helps me make better sense of the world.
So, sorry for being obnixious, Aunt M. But had I not been that obnoxious, argumentative jerk I would have never learned how clueless I was, and I would have never changed my opinions so that they are more in comformity with yours than ever before.